My ninth grade history teacher in West Kendall, Florida, always quoted a line from the movie Shawshank Redemption: "You either get busy living or get busy dying!" The other students didn't pay him any attention, but I did. I knew there was something about him. This teacher eventually introduced me to AA, a place of redemption.
I was born in South Miami in 1985. My mother is Colombian and Spanish was my first language. My first blackout was on a family trip to Venezuela. I drank a liquor made of sugar cane called "aguardiente." It was like liquid fire. All I remember was riding a pony up to a mountain top and then tumbling down the hill into a pile of horse manure. After that, I drank this same way every opportunity I had. I came back to the U.S. with this blackout under my belt, and felt like I had a "one up" on the other kids at school.
During holidays my mother would take us to a ranch near our home. I always looked forward to going to this ranch, because the farm workers would let me drink beer with them. By the end of the night, the guitars were strumming, the mariachis were singing, and the beer was flowing. In those moments I felt like time stopped, and I chased those moments ‘till the end of my drinking.
By the age of 16, I had been arrested two times. I had flunked the ninth grade. Girlfriends' mothers banned me from their homes. I had been in and out of outpatient treatment programs. Finally my parents threatened to commit me, so I volunteered to go to treatment. Deep down inside I knew I needed something drastic to help me.
It was the spring of 2001 and the desire to drink was lifted during treatment. I tasted grace. I went to a young people's meeting at 10:30 pm at the Coral Gables Group. I remember hearing a Karate instructor telling his story while he kept a cigar half lit. I felt at home. I stuck around for a while. I wanted to hang out with the young people after the meeting, but my parents wouldn't let me stay out. The young people always made these funny and sometimes annoying noises which translated into FCY-FCY-FCY! PAA-PAA-PAA! I begged and finally my mother let me go to this young people's conference called FCYPAA in Ft. Myers in 2002.
Fast forward a couple of years and I attended my first ICYPAA in Orlando in 2004. I knew that I was witnessing something incredible. But I was still ignorant and unwilling to live a purposeful life in recovery, and I took a drink shortly after this experience. I failed to enlarge my spiritual life and I fell victim to a self-imposed crisis.
I lived paycheck to paycheck working on a tugboat for a while. I romanticized the idea of living as a sailor so I worked hard and played hard. For two years I had a belly full of booze and head full of AA, but eventually the law stopped me in my tracks. I got a DUI, and was sentenced to go to AA meetings. I was so pissed off, because I had to show my face in the same meetings I'd been to before, but deep down I was craving a spiritual experience. Little by little my heart softened and I came around to a group of men that saw me come in drunk. They welcomed me and put me straight to work. They knew that I had to get busy. Through service I found God, and through God I found service.
Three months into recovery I went to ICYPAA in Atlanta where Florida put in a token bid. I caught wind of it, and showed up to the next committee elections. Thus began a journey of growing up and coming of age as a young person in AA in Florida.
Our bid committee was focused a lot on service, and one service opportunity we worked on was the Young Peoples Video Project. We submitted several videos to GSO in English and Spanish, and I was honored to tell my story of redemption in Spanish. The video project was turned into a major event at the local State Convention which we co-hosted with the linguistics committee of General Service Area 15, a group of Spanish-speakers in South Florida. This video project made it clear to me that I was right where I was supposed to be.
We still have a lot of work to do to reach the sick and suffering Spanish-speaking alcoholics who do not know that there is place where young people can get and stay sober. Can you imagine if there was an International Young Peoples conference in Brazil, Peru, or El Salvador? Until then I challenge all young people to do whatever they want in life-open businesses, learn chemistry, fly a kite-just get busy living!
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